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(Iowa) [Dubuque] Riverfront development success means big changes

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Riverfront development success means big changes for Dubuque

By Jean Tarbett Hardiman, The Herald-Dispatch [Huntington], July 22, 2007

This article is meant to accompany "Interest building in the riverfront".

Dubuque, Iowa has had success with their multi-million dollar riverfront redevelopment project that has generated millions of dollars in city real estate sales, thousands of new jobs, and tourism dollars for the city and for the state. This Mississippi River city, with a population of 57,000 in a county of 95,000, has faced for decades a population slide. Since the 1980s, it has had an average 8% unemployment rate and saw its population drop by about the same amount.

[Reference: Huntington, West Virginia, whose riverfront cleanup has sparked renewed interest, especially with the latest downtown redevelopment projects and Pullman Square, has been stuck in limbo for decades, with similar population declines.]

In the mid 1990s, the city began planning for a riverfront project with the biggest push by the Dubuque Historical Society, which proposed a $25 million river museum and aquarium. The facility was eventually constructed, but at at cost of $58 million. But through the riverfront planning process, the city developed the America's River project -- a $188 million renovation of the city's riverfront. It opened in 2003, after several years of planning and two years of construction.

The 90-acre America's River project was funded through the city of Dubuque, state and federal governments, and private enterprises. In the first two years of operation alone, the park's attendance netted an $18 million increase in Iowa tourism spending. The park features an amphitheater, plaza, river museum and aquarium and more. A floodwall was "buried" and a riverwalk was installed on top that connected to a Grand River Resort and WaterPark and the Grand River Center, a city-owned convention center. The riverwalk is connected to 35 miles of fitness trails in the area.

Phase two of the project, a $225 million investment that would include a Great Rivers Center, a Rivers Research Center, and a RiverMax Theater, could be constructed.

The project has not only benefitted the local tax dollars, but the town as a whole. A dramatic increase in downtown construction and building renovations have sparked renewed interest, and the downtown has seen a net gain in jobs. For 2006, the city saw a fifth consecutive year of record real estate sales in the city, at more than $200 million. That was a 108% increase from 2000. From February 2006 to 2007, Dubuque created 19% of the new net jobs in the entire state -- 3,500.

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